News/US: EEOC Helps Undocumented Workers

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Subject: News/US: EEOC Helps Undocumented Workers
From: Melanie Orhant (
Date: Sun Nov 21 1999 - 23:13:02 EST

EEOC Helps Undocumented Workers
By Andrew Buchanan
October 27, 1999

CHICAGO (AP) Illegal immigrants, long with little recourse against
workplace discrimination or harassment, will no longer have abuse claims
hampered by a lack of citizenship, federal officials say.

"If you violate civil rights laws and you discriminate against undocumented
workers, we will apply the full force of the law," Ida Castro, chairwoman
of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said Tuesday.

Previously, the commission's role was limited in cases of illegal workers.
But EEOC officials announced the agency will no longer consider citizenship
status in seeking redress from employers who discriminate.

Under the rule, illegal workers could get back pay, be reinstated to their
jobs if they were unfairly fired and ask the courts to force the employers
to pay damages and attorney's fees if discrimination is proved.

Castro said undocumented workers "are especially vulnerable to abuse and
exploitation," and often have few resources when abused.

The workers are often paid below the minimum wage, see their paychecks
withheld, and are discriminated against based on their ethnicity and
language, according to immigrant rights groups.

To encourage workers to come forward, the EEOC will not inform other
government agencies if an immigrant is here illegally. Castro acknowledged
that many undocumented workers will still be too intimidated to file

EEOC officials insisted the shift is not at cross-purposes with federal
immigration policy.

"We shouldn't enforce immigration laws; that's not our job," said EEOC Vice
Chairman Paul Igasaki. "What we do is discrimination enforcement. The only
way we can do that effectively is try to put that umbrella over everybody."

Don Mueller, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service,
said the agency supports the policy.

"For us, anything that's going to protect workers' rights we're going to
support," he said. "Our public enemy are the smugglers and employers who
exploit these people."

Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's
immigration subcommittee, said the policy would encourage illegal immigration.

"Providing those who entered the U.S. illegally with special protections is
absurd," Smith said. "These rules would, for example, require employers to
hire back individuals who had been fired when it is illegal to have hired
them in the first place."

Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration
Reform, a Washington-based lobbying group, said the new regulation
undermines efforts to curb illegal immigration.

"To give back pay to people who have no right to be here and no right to
have a job makes no sense," Stein said. "It totally undermines the
principles of U.S. immigration law by throwing out illegal residents with
one hand and encouraging their employment with the other."

Immigrant rights groups said undocumented workers deserve the same
protections as others who work legally.

"We see heart-rending stories of workplace exploitation in which workers
felt they had no recourse," said Sid Mohn, president of the Heartland
Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights, a Chicago-based immigrant rights

Melanie Orhant

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